The Entrepreneurial Aptitude of Prison Inmates and the Potential Benefit of Self-Employment Training Programs

By Sonfield, Matthew C.; Lussier, Robert N. et al. | Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal, July 2001 | Go to article overview

The Entrepreneurial Aptitude of Prison Inmates and the Potential Benefit of Self-Employment Training Programs


Sonfield, Matthew C., Lussier, Robert N., Barbato, Robert J., Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal


ABSTRACT

Using newly collected data, and building upon previous research, this study compared a sample of prison inmates with various other entrepreneurial and non-entrepreneurial groups with regard to entrepreneurial aptitude, as measured by the Miner MSCS-T test. Results show inmates scoring higher than "normative" entrepreneurs, "slow-growth" entrepreneurs and "manager-scientists," but lower than "high-growth" entrepreneurs. Also, inmates score the same regardless of type of crime, first-time versus repeat conviction, or enrollment or not in small business/self-employment training programs. The implications of these findings, including the potential benefits of post-prison self-employment and of training programs for inmates, are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

A major focus of attention and policy in this country today is the very large prison inmate population, and the substantial level of recidivism which works to maintain this population. Growing at a 7% annual rate since 1990 (in comparison with a total population annual growth rate of 0.91%), the total American prison population reached two million in 2000, with a new jail or prison being built somewhere in the United States on the average of once a week. (www.cia.gov.; www.cjcj.org.). (Minority inmates constitute 62% of the state and federal prison population, yet only 22% of the total American population (www.geocities.com).) Recidivism, the cycle in which ex-convicts return to crime and subsequent prison sentences, further exacerbates the problem. Researchers have found that 70% of young convicts return to prison within six years (Seligman, 1989), parole violations are up 39% since 1990 (Willing, 1999), and the rate of ex-convicts returning to crime may be even higher, since such studies only measure actual convictions rather than crimes committed (Grossman, 1985).

Within a business research context, it is particularly interesting to note the relationship between post-prison employment and the rate of recidivism. Unemployed ex-convicts are three to five times more likely to commit another crime than are those who are employed (Jackson, 1990). Yet it is especially difficult for ex-convicts to obtain employment, as their criminal records are viewed upon negatively by most hiring employers. For those ex-convicts who are minorities, the opportunities for employment are even lower.

It follows that social policy programs which would reduce the levels of unemployment among ex-convicts, and thus reduce recidivism, would be of benefit to society at large, since recidivism imposes major costs to society both objectively (the financial costs of both the crimes and the resulting incarcerations) and subjectively (higher crime rates impose quality-of-life tolls upon society). And because the objective of increasing ex-convicts' employment by others faces such high hurdles, the alternative of fostering self-employment for ex-convicts is an important consideration and the basis for this article.

More specifically, this article considers the possibility that some prison inmates may have high levels of entrepreneurial aptitude or propensity, and thus may be able to avoid recidivism via success in self-employment endeavors rather than through employment by others after leaving prison. Furthermore, if such entrepreneurial aptitude exists, then self-employment training programs for selected inmates soon to leave prison (or for recently released inmates) would constitute sound social policy and be of benefit to society. Prior studies have shown such programs to be effective in facilitating the reemployment of the unemployed (primarily laid-off workers) (Benus, 1994). Such programs generally involve training in basic small business skills, both for start-up and ongoing operations.

In recent years, representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration, from many colleges and universities, and from other agencies and organizations have been invited into jails and prisons to talk about small business and self-employment or to offer business courses for college credit. …

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